5 Ways to Promote Toddler Independence

Toddler Independence
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“Do it myself!” “No!” “Go away!” Sound familiar? If these phrases are on repeat in your house, it can only mean one thing: Toddlerhood. And with toddlerhood comes toddler independence.

The toddler years mark a period of immense growth and development, both physically and emotionally. And toddlers are often known for their desire for independence coupled with a newfound voice. They know what they want to do and they aren’t afraid to tell you about it.

The good news is your little one is finding her way in the world and figuring out how things work. She’s beginning to realize that she can actually take the lead sometimes. The bad news is you now need to factor in a lot of extra time for things like putting on socks and shoes and getting dressed.

Gaining independence and mastering new skills play important roles in toddler development.

While many well-meaning parents do things for their toddlers to decrease frustration and quicken the pace, working through those frustrating things (like actually getting the socks on the feet) are important learning opportunities for toddlers. They need to practice until they figure it out, but they also need to learn that it’s okay to feel frustrated and try again. With unconditional love and support from their grownups, toddlers can learn a lot of new skills during this time.

Fire up those mindfulness apps to tone down your own frustration because the toddler years require a ton of patience. Encouraging toddler independence, however, will help your toddler learn and grow.

Let them try

Toddlers love to attempt new tasks on their own. Sometimes they appear to pick up new skills at a fast pace; other times they struggle to gain mastery. Either way, it’s important to step back and let them try, particularly when the task at hand is within their reach.

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You will need to allow extra time for things like self-care, getting dressed, and getting out the door in the morning so that you don’t feel the urge to rush your toddler or, worse, take over. Sit with your toddler during these tasks and comment on the process. Offer help only if your toddler appears to need it.

Create a safe space

Toddlerhood is a time of new discoveries and constant exploration. Dump out the toys; repack the toys. Climb up on the bed; jump down from the bed. Take all of the pots and pans out of the kitchen cabinet … start a family band. Some toddler discoveries cause panic (I’ll never forget the first time my daughter climbed the outside of the staircase) while others result in laughter or tears. It’s all in a day’s work for an independent toddler.

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Baby-proof your home not to keep your toddler out of every possible interesting place, but to create a place for safe exploration. Toddlers hear a lot of “no” and “get down from there!” Constant negatives can actually squash the drive for independence. When your toddler has a safe zone to explore, you won’t need to rely on “no” as much.

Encourage individuality

I can’t stress this enough. Let your toddler wear zany outfits, wear costumes to the grocery store, and pull her socks up to her knees. Toddlers love to try on different personas (this is why dress up comes alive in these years) and showcase their newfound independence by way of wearing stripes with polka dots or putting their pants on backward.

Take a few deep breaths and enjoy the moment. It won’t last forever. (And one day you just might miss that Lightning McQueen costume.)

Give choices

Toddlers have very little control over their lives. While predictability certainly comes in handy for forming healthy eating and sleeping habits, it also leaves little room for learning how to make choices.

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Give your toddler choices, but keep it simple. Offering two choices for a snack, for example, gives your toddler the chance to practice decision-making without feeling overwhelmed by tons of options.

Assign toddler-size tasks

Walk into any toddler room in a preschool setting and you’ll see little kids doing any number of chores. The thing is, it doesn’t look like chores because they’re having fun!

Toddlers are great helpers and are actually quite capable. Toddlers can assist with any number of household tasks from sorting laundry to putting napkins on the table to washing fruits and vegetables to sweeping up a mess. Yes, toddlers love to take on “grown up” tasks and feel proud when they accomplish their chores. Go ahead and buy a pint-sized broom to let your toddler in on the fun!

It can be hard to let go and hand over the reins to toddlers. Even though they can do plenty of things on their own, they do need their grownups to cheer them on and whisper words of love and encouragement as they grow.

How do you help promote toddler independence?

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5 Ways to Promote Toddler Independence

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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